Primark sales rise helps AB Foods

Primark store in central London

Discount clothing chain Primark has reported more steady growth, but its performance has failed to prevent a fall in profits at its owner, AB Foods.

Total sales at Primark rose 12% in the six months to February, with operating profits rising 8% to £322m.

However, group pre-tax profits at AB Foods halved to £213m, with the company's sugar business being hit by weak prices.

The company also warned the strength of the pound could hit full-year results.

Sterling's strength against many currencies, together with the weaker euro, could lead to a "modest decline" in full-year adjusted earnings per share.

'Sound result'

AB Foods said that the sales rise at Primark was driven by an 11% increase in retail selling space at the chain.

Like-for-like sales - which strip out the impact of new stores - were level with last year, the company said.

Sales were "held back by unseasonably warm weather across northern Europe last autumn and the impact that opening new stores in the Netherlands and Germany had on existing stores in this region".

However, it added that like-for-like sales over Christmas "were strong".

AB Foods' sugar business reported an operating loss of £3m, down from a profit of £64m a year ago, as it continued to be affected by lower sugar prices.

Sugar prices in the EU have fallen by about 40% in the past two years.

AB Foods' chief executive, George Weston, said: "This is a sound trading result with significant progress made in operating profit by Primark.

"As expected, profitability at AB Sugar was substantially lower as a result of much weaker EU sugar prices.

"Primark's performance was driven by significant expansion of selling space and superior trading by the stores opened in the last 12 months and plans for its entry into the north-east of the US are well advanced."

AB Foods' pre-tax profit was also hit by a £98m charge on its Vivergo biofuel joint venture after oil prices fell.

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